Visually Stimulating Child's Room Visually Stimulating Child's Room

Q: I'm designing a bedroom for a quadriplegic, visually handicapped child. The bedroom walls are currently all off-white - a canvas waiting for life. Do you have any suggestions for making this room visually stimulating for her?

A: Your question points out the great variety of challenges that can arise in a decorator's work life - you can't possibly prepare for all the unusual situations that may come up, but with the proper tools of decorating, you'll be able to handle them. And if that fails, of course anyone is welcome to send a question in here to the Anxious Decorator.

Any time you have a decorating challenge that you think you've never seen before, go back to the basics, as taught in the Sheffield Guidelines to Interior Design: function, mood, and harmony.

  • Tip: Your first consideration here of course is function. In order for a room to be comfortable for someone in a wheelchair, the designer must consider everything from door width to making sure there is enough room for the wheelchair to move about. For a quadriplegic child, there are even more needs, as you'll have to consider space for equipment to help get the child into and out of bed, among other things.

But you've clearly done that kind of homework, and now you're facing the more fun finishing touches, which bring us to mood and harmony.

In a child's room, you want to aim for a mood that's playful, without being condescending.

A child's room is one place where it's fairly easy to get away with a mural, and the mural doesn't have to be precisely representational. You can just give an abstract idea of something without painting in actual figures. For example, to give an outdoors feeling to the room, paint the bottom third of the walls with a pale green, and the top third with blue. You could then hire an artist to paint a few butterflies scattered around the tops of the walls and perhaps a few clouds on the ceiling.

You may want to start with theme and work the color from there. What does this girl enjoy? Stay with more general themes here, as what is her favorite fairy tale, movie, or television cartoon today may be passé by next month.

Also, ask the child what colors she prefers, if her visual impairment is such that she does see color. Favorites among colors seem to last a little longer than themes in a child's life, and you could let the theme evolve from the color. For example, if she loves blue, you could aim for an ocean motif, either realistically or more abstractly.

Be sure you pay attention to the lighting in the room as well, which is particularly important in the case of someone who is visually impaired. Have a variety of kinds of lighting, at a variety of heights and strengths.

And you're definitely on the right track in thinking of the off-white walls as a canvas waiting for paint, especially for this child. Chances are she has already spent some time in hospitals, and with the necessary equipment in her room, you don't want her own bedroom to look like a hospital room. Also, of course, her visual impairment may mean that brighter colors will be easier for her to see, so don't skimp on the paint. As is true with anyone, the bedroom should be all hers, and she should feel this is her own special place made just for her.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design

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